Horse racing is one of the few sports which has difficulty identifying the true 'sporting hero'. Trainers, jockeys and horses jostle to be praised for their performances, their skill and the transformations they have achieved. While there is prize money for owners, trainer and jockeys, there are not many ways of congratulating a horse to a win. This side takes a moment to acknowledge the true heroes of equestrian sports - the horses themselves.
Foaled in 2001, Yeats is one of the living legends in British flat racing. The Irish-born and trained bay stallion is the only horse to win the Ascot Gold Cup, one of Britain's most prestigious races, four years in a row. In 2006 Yeats embarked on a winning rampage not even the most experienced opponents could stop. He defeated his Ascot crown in 2007,2008 and 2009; making the 2010 Ascot Gold Cup one of the most anticipated races of all time, with a whole nation holding its breath to see if the miracle thoroughbred can top his success with a fifth consecutive win.
Although Nijinski was born in Canada, he was shipped to Ireland for training at such an early age that the British racing public happily accepted him as one of their own. Seemingly intent on making his name from the very start, Nijinsky began to built his reputation as a splendid race horse from an early age; and succeeded in becoming the champion two-year-old of both England and Ireland in 1969. The next year, as soon as he had reached racing maturity, Nijinski proceeded to win the 2,000 Guineas Stakes at the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby. Off to a flying start he continued his winning streak, taking first place at the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and the Doncaster St. Leger Stakes - which made him the first horse in 35 years to complete a winning English Triple Crown. Nijinsky has been the subject of a documentary narrated by Orson Wells, and was voted 'Horse of the Millennium' posthumously in a 2000 poll of The Sun.
Initially, Brow Jack (1924-1948) began his career in jump racing, premiering as a four-year-old in 1928 by winning seven of his ten starts, among them the Cheltenham Champions' Hurdle. Despite his obvious prowess on the jump track, Brown Jack's owner, Sir Harold Wernher, decided to try his charge in the more lucrative flat races. In the same year of his hurdling victories, Brown Jack won the Ascot Stakes on the flat. He then set a record winning the Queen Alexandra Stakes for six consecutive years (1929-1934). 1930 saw Brown Jack racing to victory at the Goodwood Cup and the Doncaster Cup; 1931 he was the first across the line in the Ebor Handicap and the Chester Cup, and also took home the Rosebery Memorial Plate. To salute his stellar career, a bronze statue of Brown Jack was erected at Ascot where it can still be seen today.
Born in 1995 and a frequently sick and weakened foal, Best Mate went on to become one of the most revered horses in UK jump racing history. He achieved three consecutive wins at the Cheltenham Gold Cup from 2002 to 2004; matching the thus far unbeaten record of Arkle. Although he started in a comparably small number of 22 races during his career, Best Mate put his best foot forward every time; never finishing worse than second. With 14 wins and seven second places, it was a shock when Best Mate collapsed and died on site at Exeter Race Course on 1st November 2005, after being pulled out of his 22nd race by his jockey Paul Carberry. His ashes were buried beside the winning post at Cheltenham Racecourse.
Until Best Mate came along Arkle was the last horse to have won three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups (1964, 1965, 1966). This Irish Thoroughbred was the first horse in British racing history to be recognised and talked about outside 'racing circles' - meaning that anyone who read the paper or listened to the radio knew of the infamous Arkle. Considered the greatest Steeple Chaser of all time, with a timeform rating of 212, Arkle became an icon in his native Ireland; even inspiring graffiti on Dublin walls calling for 'Arkle For President'. Arkle won 27 of his 35 starts, including the Irish Grand National (1964), the Hennessy Gold Cup (1964 and 1965), the Gallagher Gold Cup (1965), and the Whitebread Gold Cup (1965). In December 1966 Arkle started in his final race, the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park. During the race Arkle fractured a pedal bone when striking a guard rail. Despite his injury he finished second; however, he never recovered from his injury and was put down four months later. Arkle lived to be 13 years old.
The legendary Irish Gelding achieved a thus-far unbeaten record, winning the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree three times, in 1973, 1974 and 1977. His first win at Aintree is still considered one of the most memorable Grand National race days of all time, seeing Red Rum snatch the win in a tight finale. The attractive and well-tempered horse quickly became a national celebrity. Red Rum opened supermarkets and led the annual parade at Aintree; he was the subject of several biographies, and his image was featured on a wide range of merchandise including mugs, plates and jigsaw puzzles. Buried at the winning post of Aintree Racecourse, Red Rum is remembered with a touching epitaph: "Respect this place, this hallowed ground; a legend here his rest has found. His feet would fly, our spirits soar; he earned our love for evermore."